Nineteenth century French author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously coined the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Upon embarking on one of the more critical off-seasons in recent franchise history, the Orlando Magic organization is once again finding itself in a familiar situation: change (and lots of it).
Orlando’s top executives, led by Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, made franchise direction-altering moves this past March, trading All-Star center Nikola Vucevic (nine seasons with the Magic), starting forward Aaron Gordon (seven seasons with the Magic), and starting wing Evan Fournier (seven seasons with the Magic) prior to the league’s trade deadline. After appearing in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons from 2019-2020, Orlando’s front office decided to change the organization’s course - at least partly due to the significant knee injuries suffered by Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac (which caused the Magic to fall considerably in the Eastern Conference hierarchy).
If that wasn’t enough change (or maybe because it was too much), the Orlando Magic organization will also be searching this offseason for their sixth head coach in the last eight years. On June 5th, an announcement was made that the team and former head coach Steve Clifford had “mutually agreed to part ways”. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy from 2007-2012, compiled a 96-131 record leading the Magic over the last three seasons. It is widely believed that the Orlando organization’s new blueprint- with so many young players on the roster - doesn’t align with a veteran coach such as Clifford’s timeline.
So here we are, with a turned-over roster full of 20-somethings, and a new lead coach yet to be hired. But with so much change, why do things in Orlando still feel the same?
The draft. Once again, the Magic organization is embarking on a critically important draft - and they have to get things right. The mainstays from recent Orlando past are gone, the team is in full rebuild mode, and much of what the franchise has done over the last year hinges on hitting a homerun during this draft process.
So I’m back for my fourth consecutive offseason, putting together a series of scouting reports on players the Magic will likely be targeting, either with their first round pick or Chicago’s pick (which Orlando acquired in the Vucevic deal). Chicago’s first round pick this year will be conveyed to Orlando as long as it doesn’t land in the top-4 (Editors Note: It conveyed - the Magic will be picking fifth and eighth in this year’s draft).
Some important dates in this process to keep in mind between now and the end of the summer are: June 21st-27th (the NBA Draft Combine), June 22nd (the NBA Draft Lottery), and July 29th (the NBA Draft).
In this series, I have compiled scouting reports that include film observations, loose player comparisons, talking points, Magic-specific potential fits/needs, and more. Next in this series is a long and imposing top-end big - USC center Evan Mobley.
16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks
(33.9 minutes per game)
62.4% TS%, A/TO ratio: 1.07
Film Study: Eye in the sky
-Found success as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations diving to the rim, available for lobs; how much will his pick-and-pop game develop?
-Doesn’t have to catch the ball in the paint to cause problems offensively, thrives using dribble and athleticism/length to beat opponents to the paint/rim from the perimeter
-Very light, will need to add significant bulk; how long will it be before he’s able to hold position in the paint at the next level?
-Great touch around the rim, sneaky jumping ability finishing in the paint/above the rim
-Game-changer defending the rim; timing and instincts contesting shots was elite at the college-level
-Impressive ability to go straight-up and challenge opponents defensively without fouling (just 1.8 PF in 33.9 minutes in 2020-21)
-His fluidity, feet, and defensive awareness allowed him to excel defending pick-and-rolls against smaller opponents
-Hip movement, feet movement, athleticism even allowed him to stay with smaller opponents defending out on the perimeter in on-ball situations
-Has solid vision, sees the floor well for a big at this stage of his development (passes off the dribble, finds cutters, reverses the ball to the opposite corner, drive and kicks, etc.); potential to become an above-average passer (for a center) in the NBA is there
-Length helped him get to the free throw line at a relatively high-clip this past season, still has room to grow and become more efficient from the charity stripe
His game resembles...
Chris Bosh - This is a comparison you see a lot with Mobley, and I think it’s a closer match than the Wiseman/Bosh comparisons from last year (even though I hate mentioning Hall of Fame players when scouting teenage prospects). Both players share similar frames upon entering the NBA (Bosh was able to add 20-25 lbs. to his frame in the NBA). Mobley is more advanced defensively than Bosh was coming out of Georgia Tech, the latter was ahead of the former when it comes to shooting from the perimeter.
Bam Adebayo - Similar playing styles (offensively) here between Adebayo/Mobley (handle, passing ability). The big difference between the two is their bodies - Mobley is taller, Adebayo is much stronger and was physically more ready upon entering the NBA to battle in the paint with other bigs.
Anthony Davis - Again, I hate using perennial All-Star (and potential Hall of Fame) level players when doing comparisons. For me, this one is all about what Mobley is capable of on the defensive end of the floor. His length, switchability, shot-blocking presence, instincts off the ball, and ability to defend on the perimeter all scream Davis comparison. But still, Mobley is giving up some weight/strength here compared to the Lakers big man.
Best games/films of the season
January 23rd vs. California: 25 points (12-15 FTA’s), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks
February 17th vs. Arizona State: 22 points (9-11 FGA’s), 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks
March 12th vs. Colorado: 26 points (11-16 FGA’s), 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 assists
Video Credit: Swish
Video Credit: Tremendous Upside
Video Credit: Scouting Rapport
Resume/By the numbers
- Two-time California Gatorade Player of the Year in high school
- Was selected to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, and the Nike Hoops Summit (all canceled due to COVID-19)
- Won a gold medal playing for Team USA at the FIBA U17 World Cup (‘18), was with Team USA in 2019 at the U19 World Cup (dealt with back spasms, played minimally)
- Named to the following in 2020: All-Pac-12 (1st Team), All-American (2nd Team), All-Pac-12 Defense (1st Team), All-Pac-12 Freshmen (1st Team), All-Pac-12 Tournament (1st Team)
- Pac-12 Player of the Year, Pac-12 Rookie of the Year, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year
- As a freshmen, led the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, points, rebounds/rebounds per game, blocks/blocks per game/block percentage, Player Efficiency Rating, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Defensive Box Plus/Minus
- Led the nation in Box Plus/Minus
1) Modern Big
Evan Mobley is different.
In today’s modern NBA game, it may not be worthwhile for a team to take a big man near the top of the draft. An argument along those lines certainly holds some water; teams value athletic and versatile players who can do a number of things on the floor to help a team win (and that usually means defending multiple positions as well). Gone are the days of dominant back-to-the-basket ‘bigs’ such as Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, etc. It’s a skill-player’s league, and you can tell quite often when games tighten in the playoffs (especially when coaches go to their second units), teams are regularly looking to play smaller.
But when it comes to Mobley, well I just don’t think any of those sentiments really apply. He’s such a unique prospect when considering all the different things he can do on the floor to ultimately make an impact. He’s an elite shot-blocker and paint defender, he can move the basketball (and even make advanced reads), he’s a lob/roll threat offensively, and he has an above-average handle that helps him attack other bigs off the dribble (from the perimeter).
Most impressively, Mobley is a master defending the pick-and-roll, and that is exactly what sets him apart from other big men at the top of recent draft classes. His instincts and defensive awareness levels are off the chart - he uses his quick feet and overall athleticism to recover, switch, create more efficient angles, and even defend guards away from the painted area, etc.
Unlocking his outside shot and becoming a threat from beyond the three-point line will be vitally important for Mobley moving forward, but he has plenty of time for that.
2) Must add strength
If there is one thing about Mobley that concerns me, it’s his frame (7-0, 210 pounds). He’s incredibly thin, and I realize he’s only 19 years old - so I get it. But his body is just not ready at this point to compete in the paint night-in and night-out against starting centers in the NBA. I felt the same way about Mo Bamba in 2018 entering the league, and in a lot of ways Magic fans can probably understand how a lack of strength in your base can affect an NBA big man.
It’s not like Mobley has the most advanced back-to-the-basket offensive game as it is, so a lack of an ability early in his career to ‘hold his water’ in the paint won’t be completely detrimental. But where a big like Mobley could suffer without the strength and solid base requisite of an elite NBA center is on the boards. Mobley was a solid rebounder last season at USC, especially on the offensive glass. Yet, many of his rebounds came from just high-pointing the basketball and outreaching smaller opponents. That won’t always work against the best big men in the world in the NBA. Mobley will need to develop a body that will allow him to bang a bit more than he’s capable of doing now.
Howard and Davis are two bigs that share some things in common with Mobley; they both entered the league with tons of defensive upside, but also very skinny. Howard and Davis worked incredibly hard on their bodies, adding significant amounts of weight/strength to their frames as their respective careers progressed forward. I mention those two elite defenders because that’s the kind of company Mobley can keep, he possesses All NBA Defensive potential.
But a lot of that conversation hinges on Mobley’s ability to add strength (and quickly).
Making a case for the Magic to draft Evan Mobley in the ‘21 NBA Draft
|Does Mobley fit the Weltman/Hammond archetype?||Somewhat, Yes|
|Would taking Mobley in the lottery be considered a BPA/value selection?||Yes (Magic pick)|
|Would Mobley provide the Magic with depth in a needed area?||Not really|
Okay, this is where things get rather interesting.
First of all, if I were running the Magic, I would be thrilled (no, ecstatic) if a player the caliber of an Evan Mobley were to somehow fall into my lap. It’s absolutely not going to happen, but for the sake of the argument, that would present to the organization an incredible position to be in following a relatively cruddy draft lottery night.
And again, if I were to be responsible for making draft-related decisions, I wouldn’t for a second entertain the thought of dismissing Mobley because he happens to play the same position as Wendell Carter Jr. and Bamba.
The fact is, both Carter Jr. and Bamba are entering into the final year of their respective rookie contracts, and neither player is definitively locked into the team’s long term plans. Both former lottery picks from the 2018 draft have had fleeting moments of NBA success through their first three NBA seasons, but have also suffered through (more than) their fair share of injuries and setbacks. Mobley profiles as a potential two-way difference maker, a more modern NBA big man that can handle defensive switches and slow down perimeter opponents.
So I wouldn’t be hesitant adding Mobley into the mix, but I don’t get to make that call.
And that’s why I think Mobley is an interesting case study when it comes to the Magic. There absolutely is a human element to this whole process; Weltman and Hammond were the executives who picked Bamba over players such as Collin Sexton, Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter Jr. at number six in the infamous 2018 draft.
Wouldn’t drafting another franchise center just three years later be a self-report that their previous pick was wrong and/or they had lost faith in the development of Bamba? Look, I wouldn’t have a problem bringing in another big to the organization at all, not if he was clearly the best available prospect (which in this scenario, Mobley would be).
But maybe Weltman and Hammond would have trouble pulling the trigger? In a league that is shifting away from valuing traditional centers (which Mobley is not, by the way), would it make sense to draft a player that plays the same position as two former top-seven picks that are already on the roster (one drafted by the current management group, one acquired as the centerpiece of the Vucevic trade by the current management group)?
Well, it’s an interesting scenario, but one that I highly doubt will ever even come close to playing out. Mobley is going to be in consideration for the Houston Rockets at number two. I think Houston will go with Jalen Green over Mobley, but we still have three weeks to read the tea leaves there. And even if Mobley gets by Houston, Cleveland (picking third), Toronto (picking fourth), or a team trading into one of those spots (like an Oklahoma City) would assuredly scoop up the California-product.
I mentioned this at length in my last scouting report, but if there were to be an odd situation play out with a Jonathan Kuminga or Scottie Barned jumping into the top four picks in this draft, then I think it’s Jalen Suggs - not Mobley - who would be the ‘top-four’ prospect to fall.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.
Also, check out Aaron’s other scouting reports in this series: Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, Keon Johnson, Moses Moody, and Jalen Suggs